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Chapter II.

THERE AT LAST.

Forsitan hæc olim meminisse juvabit.


TO SLOPE from the inn in which you have very unceremoniously taken your ease, without settling your account—even when you leave your luggage as security for ultimate payment,—is not the most gentlemanly mode of procedure in the world. It is, however, the course that I am compelled to adopt; for my wealth consists but of a shilling or two. I know no one in Maitland, and fear that if I disclose the state of my circumstances to my landlord, he may have me apprehended as a swindler who has obtained good liquor under false pretences.

Not belonging by any means to the Pachydermata of moralists in matters of this sort, I look so conscious of fugitive intentions when I descend the staircase of the “Northumberland” (an hotel, by-the-bye, that I can safely recommend to more immediately remunerating customers than myself), that I wonder the barmaid does not lay violent hands on me, and demand, on behalf of her master, the liquidation of my little bill. But she is flirting with an early nobbleriser, and suffers me to pass her yawning window unchallenged, and depart unheeded on my road to Singleton.

Travelling in Australia is sadly monotonous. The highways are all fashioned in one model. Everywhere you see the same grey or red railfences; the same ragged gum-trees, reminding you of men with dirty, tattered shirts; the same tall, bare, white boles, extending their arms like skeletons about to break forth in sepulchral oratory, or “set” in a “Dance of Death;” the same charred, prostrate trunks like blackfellows knocked


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down in a drunken squabble (felled trees in other countries look like heroes o'ermastered in Homeric strife); the same black, jagged stumps, like foul, decaying teeth; the same distant verdure—verdure a non virendo—like piles of dry mud and soot, the same scrub close at hand, with dingy foliage that looks like Royal Mint-street clothing half hopelessly hung out for sale (even leaves in Australia possess “colonial experience,” and are anything but green); the same not grass, but graminaceous scurf, as if the earth had got the ringworm; the same bark-roofed slab-huts, not so respectable as English pigsties; the same ramshackle, rambling roadside inns, with canoe-like water-troughs; the same execrable road, in dry weather a field abominably ploughed, over whose furrows the mail-cart goes bump-bump, lurch-lurch, churning all milk of human kindness in the new chum, polishing his pants on cushionless seats or subjacent post-bags, into anything but butter for the constructors of the accursed tracks on which the stay-at-home writers of Australian Guide-books have bestowed such lying eulogies: in wet weather a Slough of Despond no modern Christian ought to be called upon to pass, a channel of mire dotted with bogged drays, with drivers seated on their loads, like sailors in the tops of wrecks and foundering ships, smoking with the grim resignation of despair. “The roads of Australia proverbial!” Verily, they are proverbial —but in no fundatory sense!

To resume my catalogue of identities:—Everywhere you are oppressed by the same long miles of loneliness, relieved only by the same bullockdrays, with barking dogs jingling bells, kegs slung beneath, and pots and pannekins swinging behind; by the same flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, mobs of horses (their drivers—straight and thin as ramrods, lank-haired as Indians, sallow as mummies—sitting stately in their saddles, now cracking their stockwhips like so many rifles, anon resting the handles sceptrefashion on their thighs, with the lashes looped in loose coil like tame serpents round their arms); by the same female equestrians, remarkable for short habits and substantial ankles, carrying all sorts of things, from a feather bed to a pumpkin-pie, dangling at their saddle-bows; and by the same Chinamen, with silken nets hanging veil-wise from their cabbagetrees, and balancing poles like milk-yokes on their shoulders, from the ends of which depend their blanket-bundles and umbrellas—whoever saw a vagrant Celestial without an umbrella?

Natives, when in the company of immigrants, are in the habit of trumpeting the beauty of their country about thirty times an hour. Now, for my own part, I always suspect everything, except a king or queen, that requires to be proclaimed; and remembering that most Australians, like


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the mouse in the fable, have had but scanty opportunities of comparison, and call their own land a fine one just simply because they have not seen any other, I make a point of never saying “Amen” to these fulsomely reiterated praises. I don't say it, because I can't say it. Of all the lands that ever I saw, Australia appears to me to be the ugliest, shrivelled and sulky-looking as the most ancient and hopeless of old maids.

I have a dismally dull walk to Lochinvar. Its only incidents are the indignation of a colonial publican when I refuse to drink colonial ale (whatever Australians may think of themselves or their country, they certainly ought to think small beer of their “swipes”), and the acid anxiety of an old woman that keeps an “accommodation house,” who turns sour as her own lemon-syrup on my eagerly inquiring whether she doesn't sell grog upon the sly.

Lunch at Lochinvar, however, solaceth me. Talfourd, in his Vacation Rambles, fills a page and a-half with reminiscences of delicious drinks, for the purpose of extolling the super-excellence of some other (I forget what) that he drank when thirsty. My bibulous experience, of course, is neither so extensive nor so recherche as the learned judge's, but I have done a little in the imbibing line, and can, therefore, assert, with some degree of authority, that, on a hot day, after a weary tramp, no beverage is comparable to Bass's pale ale—a good two bottles of the malt-nectar, mind you —especially when a pretty and pale—“Oh, call it fair, not pale”—barmaid, or host's daughter, or whoever the ministrant maiden may be, of the Lochinvar “Red Lion” consents to be your Hebe.

Trudging on with strength renewed, I desire, after a time, a smoke. In search of a light, I pass through a well-stocked little garden, up to a hut literally buried beneath a pumpkin-vine; between the broad leaves of which the golden blossoms gleam forth like guineas shining through the meshes of a green silk purse. It is rather a mortifying simile to occur to one who can almost apostrophise his flaccid money-holder as Mr. Benjamin Bolt, of the “Salt Sea Wave,” is apostrophised by the gentleman who is so tiresomely inquisitive as to the extent of his friend's recollections:—

I feel in the core of my innermost heart
That there is no change in you.

I find the cottage tenanted by an old German (from Wittenberg), his wife, and his little daughter; the last—very proud of her little English— seated on an old sea-chest marked with the records of wide travel in cabalistic-looking characters. Having fished a glowing ember out of the fire for my cheroot, I fall into conversation with my temporary hosts; and, at length, with flashing eyes and trembling voice, the old man tells me the


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history of his son—how Johann Gottlieb was the pride of all Wittenberg, with hair like flax, and eyes as blue as its flower: how he was brave and generous, and skilful in his trade, and how his father's heart twined round him “like that vine outside, Sir, round the stick.” How Johann set out on his “journeyman-wanderings;” how he came to Milan at the time of the rising against the Austrians; how, though his love of liberty, he heeded not his Teutonic blood, but joined the patriots against their oppressors; how he was taken prisoner, and by order of Radetzky scourged like a dog until he died. “ ‘Shall I not visit for these things?’; saith the Lord. Francis Joseph, crafty and cruel as a tiger, thou hast inherited a rich heritage of hates from that old fool Ferdinand: and thou seemest inclined to add to thy possession: wait awhile, Nemesis is on thy track— thy name goes up to heaven linked with curses instead of blessings. Italy yet shall have her revenge, and the ragenote of a ravished virgin is fearful.” Somewhat in this strain does the old man talk, and then accepting a few cigars—“fer goot vrom Faterland”—as a parting token of goodwill from the crushed, kind-hearted old fellow, I go upon my way, meditating on what I have heard. There is something in the old German's sœva indignatio, unforgiving fury, that takes my fancy: for I must confess that I do not admire a superabundance of Christian resignation under man-inflicted suffering. Some people parade their patience like that self-complacently meek mammalian martyr, St. Agatha,—for ever offering you, with a simper of conceited mildness, her cut-off breast upon a waiter—just as if it were a mutton-chop or sweet-bread. In my opinion, such lily-livered folks deserve to be put upon.

I do not know a lovelier sight than a field of ripening wheat, sprinkled with scarlet poppies and the azure Cyane, canopied by a sky of glowing sapphire specked with snowy clouds, and shut in on all sides by hedge-row tangle dipping its long sprays into the lake of yellow light, and hedge-row trees clad in the thick, dusky foliage of summer. Whether the brown ears, dew-beaded and nodding, drowsily rustle in the wakening breath of morn, or, dewless and motionless, take their siesta in the blazing, breezeless noon, the picture feeds the eye and the heart with peaceful beauty. Maize, despite its pretty tassels, won't do after wheat. It is too stiff and lanky. A crop of it looks like a regiment of half-starved grenadiers. And oh, what a dismal substitute is an Australian four-rail fence for an English hedge, with its hawthorn, sweet-briar, dog-rose, sturdy oaks, and spreading elms.

Thus do I grumble as I mount a four-rail fence, and wind my way through a patch of maize (in quest of water) to a half-finished hut with


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canvas roof. In the cot I discover a nut-brown little countrywoman of mine—handsome and hospitable as all Welshwomen are—superintending the toilette of her son and heir; a rosy little rogue, floundering in a washing-tub, chubby-cheeked as a churchyard cherub, but with the full adipose development in other quarters that those very comical angelic infants lack: a fact of which he ever and anon gives ocular demonstration, “showing” above water like a pink porpoise. The young mother starts like a young fawn when I first darken her doorway; but learning my wants, brings out, instead of the ὓδωρ, which is only ἂριστον, when you can get nothing better, a bowl of new milk, home-made bread hot from the oven, butter uncontaminated by any civic taint of lard, a bunch of luscious grapes, and a basket of delicious peaches: bidding me go in, and do my best—just don't I? How I revel in those glorious globes of succulent sunshine, fragrant as flowers, and sweet as Sicilian honey! I long to finish off my meal with a grateful peck at a pair of pouting cherries. I asked for water, and she gave me milk; she brought forth butter in a broken dish. Honour, however, forbids; and I depart,—hating her poor husband whom I have never seen, and wondering how long I am to remain a bachelor.

The Dutch measure their distances by pipes: Charles Lamb used to measure his by pints. In emulation of that great public benefactor, I make my milestones nobblers. The consequence is that in the bush my miles are often somewhat lengthy. Scotch miles with very big bittocks. It is evening, and I recal, with melancholy appreciation, a derivation of the word Spes on which I stumbled once upon a time, whilst turning over the leaves of a German Latin dictionary:— “SPES; Sanscrit bhâs, akin to the Greek φῶς, light,—a light in the distance towards which you look and long.” The light in the distance for which I look and long, is a public-house lamp, for I am footsore, fatigued, famished, and very thirsty; but none such can I discover. So, first drinking, or rather lapping up, and then bathing face, hands, and feet in, some water of the colour and consistency of coffee-grounds (using the gritty sand that circles it as soap—very Brown Windsor), I pick the grassiest spot I can find to camp out in, and lay me down to take my rest, with my paletot wrapped around me. The stars come out one by one, and look down on me like loving sisters' watchful eyes. Presently the moon rises over the dark trees. I don't relish her full light so much. I fancy that she is comparing me—not to my advantage—with Endymion.

She is “dropping down the sky all silently,” when, after a wretched


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mosquito-haunted night, I wake for good. A rich aroma—there is some good even in gum-trees—fills the fresh morning air, as I push on to the next inn for breakfast; and cheerfully curls the blue wood-smoke from the encampments of the bullock-drivers, preparing for their day's journey. After a dejeuner SANS la fourchette, of bread and cheese and my pet beer, at a wayside “public,” I descend upon Patrick's Plains, and hobble into Singleton—a town composed, apparently, of inns, mills, and tabernacles. In a small place the divisions of sect look almost ludicrous; it seems so strange that half-a-dozen people should want half-a-dozen different roads to heaven. Going to one of the mills to get a boat to cross the river, I overhear a methodist expounding the peculiarities of his creed to his floury fellow-workmen. Instead of sneering, I somehow respect him for it. We southerners are such a set of Sadducees, or, if we have any religion, make it so exclusively a “thing of synagogues and Sundays”—locking it up, as it were, with what Sam Slick calls our “go-to-meetin, clothes,” that this weaving of it into the warp of common workday life seems to me-to say the least-an interesting phenomenon. It makes me think of the old Apostolic times, when those who pulled the oar and hauled the net were, also, fishers of men; of the old Puritan times, when, in Carlyle's phrase, the English squire wore his belief in God about him like his shot-belt.

Failing to obtain a boat, I return to the crossing-place; passing on the road a candidate for senatorial honours who is on a canvassing-tour. He folds his arms and knits his brow, striving, as he paces the verandah of his hotel—planting his little feet with all the ponderosity of which they are capable (and that isn't much—the lead lies in the opposite extremity) —to look the very Zeus of booksellers and statesmen, I need not say that he fails most deplorably in his attempt. It's no use trying, little Pid! Thou wast not meant to be majestic.—For want of a more dignified conveyance, I am constrained to mount a water-cart, and cross the river sitting, like a sign-painter's Bacchus, astride upon a tun.

A hot, dusty, tiring, thirst-provoking day—I meet an old pupil. He seems somewhat surprised to see his former “guide, philosopher, and friend,” plodding through the bush, in shirt-sleeves and with upturned trousers, like a tinker on the tramp; but nevertheless—young scoundrel that he is—he offereth me not a horse. I wander through a wilderness of trees springing from soil so sun-scorched that one marvels that even an Australian forest can grow there. As the road winds, I catch glimpses of gloomy hills, with solemn Dead Seas of sombre foliage in the intervening gullies. Towards evening I reach Glennie's Creek, and see, for a wonder,


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a little rural “bit” worthy of the pencil of a Gainsborough. The sun is low in the cooling sky. The grass gleams like burnished bronze. The leaves of the eucalypti are tipped with gold. A flock of bleating lambs are descending to the stream, followed by a bevy of barefooted children— just let out of school—as noisy and as gamesome. In front of an English-looking inn, stands an English-looking landlord, lazily watching a wooldray which has just been upset on the other side of the creek, within shadow of the pretty little white stone church. To right the overturned dray, a team has been borrowed from the dray behind. One of the bullocks shams faint, and is liberated from the yoke; whereupon Strawberry knowingly whisks his tail, and rushes into the water with a broad grin upon his bovine nose. After sundry remarkable displays of engineering—mechanical science in these parts appears decidedly to be in its infancy—the wain is set upon its wheels once more, crosses the creek, together with its companion, and the drivers and their local allies celebrate their triumph with copious libations.

Another night of camping out. No sleep. The bull-frogs croak, like their human analogues, with a detestable tone of enjoyment. The parrots chatter like school-girls in their bed-room, when the governess on duty has gone down to supper. High up in the trees my little namesakes send forth their indescribable cry. Countless crickets hiss in chorus. Lukewarm rain falls ever and anon. Flies cluster on my face, making it look—if there were any one here to see it—a very liberally fruited currant-dumpling. Above all, those d—d mosquitoes—I can't help it, I must swear—jostle with the flies for the possession of my nose, and turn my hands into a pair of pink, perforated cards. I am a Pythagorean, and firmly believe that the souls of unpaid creditors migrate, on their decease, into mosquitoes, and in that form continue to torment their unfortunate debtors. That last dig came from a departed snip. This under which I at present wince, is the spiteful bite of a dead landlady. Would that I had bled honestly in metaphor, and thus avoided this vile literal phlebotomy!

Morning comes at last. A miserable breakfast, and a miserable day— spent in crawling along like a wounded snake, lying down in the Brummagem shade that Australian trees afford, and seeking for and drinking muddy water. Everyone, they say, must eat a peck of dirt in his life-time. I am sure that I have taken my quantum, diluted, a dozen times over, in this trip of mine. Now, however, I can find no water, however muddy. Every moment I am tantalised by the fancied sound, the fancied sight, of running streams. I might as well hope for them in Sahara.


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Dead beat, with a hundred pulses throbbing in my head, I drop upon the ground, muttering, Hibernice: “It's all up with me!” When, lo! suddenly the sunlight fades, the wind rushes moistly past, and in a few minutes the lightning writes its blinding zigzags on the blackened heavens, and the awful thunder crashes and rumbles through the gloom. Down comes the rain, in sheets, not drops; I drink at every pore, and freshen like a plant.

The sun is shining again, in a blue evening sky, when, splashed to the eyes, at last I enter Muswellbrook. The wet shingles flash back his dazzling rays, and every leaf is decked with quivering brilliants.

Clustered before the local “Royal,” I find a conclave of the Dii Majores of the township, to wit: the Doctor, on horseback, and in huge jackboots, overflowing, like a couple of cornuacopiœ, or a pair of marketwomen's panniers, with melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins, potatoes, eggs, and poultry—fees in kind that he has just returned from foraging. Item, his brother magistrate, whose mission to this sublunary sphere appears to consist in stroking a sable smooth moustache, and smoking a short pipe as black and glossy. Item, a third juridical grandee, plenus superbiœ et Bacchi, full of bounce and beer, who walketh up and down, driving his thumb into the ribs, and his toe against the shin of any acquaintance less wealthy than himself, exclaiming therewithal, “Scrubber, Sir, scrubber— show us your bank-book—show us your bank-book!” Item, the clerk of the bench, that jolly son of Anak, whose ruby visage peers down benignant, as the sun just risen above a mountain-top, upon the little postmaster, who is exploding in spasmodic spirits, like those of bottled cider still forcing out the cork with which you strive to curb its liveliness, at some broad Petty Sessions' joke, ungratefully paying for his fun (for this official, likewise, is facetious) with the most execrable of puns—laughter-moving, notwithstanding, from its utter badness. Item, the swell “loafer” of the place, superintendent of some gold company somewhere, a knowing-looking Yorkshire gentleman; with hands planted in perpetuity upon his hips, coat-tail ktemata es aei, giving him somewhat of the appearance of a two-handled pipkin; in low-crowned hat, fox-head-buttoned shooting-jacket (afflicted with a rash of pockets), and pantaloons so tight as to suggest the idea that, by a freak of nature, he was born in breeches; of the turf, turfy, and no mistake about it; horseflesh in his eye and in his birds-eye tie, in his talk, his studs, his straddle. Item, in close confab with the last, an overgrown Cupid or undersized Bacchus, round and rubicund; with trace of hair upon the upper lip that makes one think at first that he has been eating marmalade, omitting afterwards to wipe


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his mouth; ready to back himself for any amount to do anything against anybody; riding buckjumpers that never bucked (or, if they did, have long since repented of the follies of their youth); beating Parker at single-stick, and able to spar, without the gloves, with Perry (at least, so he says); nathless, despite of brag, a rosily, pleasant little gentleman, much beloved, apparently, by the Hunter nymphs, who, maugre their topographical appellation, seem by no means votaresses of Diana. And finally, “Old Boshy,” ex-pugilist and present publican; host of whose sledge-hammer fist, and arm, thick, brown, and strong as a brig's bowsprit, customers stand in wholesome awe, and who, consequently, expresses his opinion of things and folks in general pretty freely, his category of characterisation running from the “deep damnation” of his “trash,” up to an original superlative of praise, “pickles!”—pronounced enjoyingly as though he ate them.

Haustus repetatur! I exclaim, after having emptied a tankard of my perpetual beer; and having followed the self-imposed prescription, sit down to a substantial supper. The meal is soon dispatched, and in a few minutes I am sound asleep; as dead to the world as if I were really dead; shrouded in snowy sheets, buried in a grave of down. When you have not been in bed for two nights running, when your rest for forty-eight hours has consisted of mere feverish naps, repose paid in beggarly instalments, driblets of balm too small to soothe, how delicious it is to sink at last in the soft yielding feathers, forgetful of the past, heedless of the future, about to become in a moment unconscious of the present—the dreamless, unbroken slumber that you feel will instantly be yours, the sole blessing in life for which you care a single straw.

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